Deciphering the Text Foundations of Traveller

Jan 31, 20:48 by Bluejack

Has anyone else played this game? Personally, Traveller was my first non-D&D RPG. Ok. I'm a geek. But I doubt you're surprised.

(Michael Andre-Driussi's analysis is here.)
Feb 1, 05:36 by Nathan Ballingrud
I've never played Traveller, though I've always wanted to, and still do. I'm leery of its current incarnation, though (Steve Jackson's GURPS). Since we have Steampunk and Traveller in the same issue, I feel it's also safe to ask: has anyone here played GDW's Space: 1889?
Feb 1, 13:31 by Yoon Lee
I haven't played Traveller either, although I did get GURPS Traveller *and* some of the omnibus reprints--I regret that I never found a group running it. (The crowd I found was pretty well ensconced in AD&D, Legend of the Five Rings, Seventh Sea, occasional others...)
Feb 2, 12:13 by Michael Andre-Driussi
Hello there, I'm the article-writer! I'm interested in how Traveller started out as opposite to D&D, yet market forces smoothed some of the differences. D&D comes from a fairy tale starting point ("you are a young [wizard, warrior, etc.] leaving your village to seek adventure"), where Traveller is the noir setting more like a midlife crisis where one has just left one's mundane job (nobody says it, but pensions are not enough <g>). Where D&D has self-improvement ("kill Orcs, improve your lock-picking!"), Traveller was first the losing battle against Entropy (characters could easily die in the generation process, before even entering the game; not to mention the sobering effects of aging)...but self-improvement became such an expected feature of rpgs that eventually Traveller offered it. In D&D one kills monsters; in Traveller one kills people...Traveller developed more "monster-like" aliens, but still kept a pretty tight rein on that. In D&D one gets magic weapons; in Traveller one gets weapons banned by modern Geneva Conventions (flechettes; like the poison gas used in an early "Hammer's Slammers" story). GDW was hard against laser pistols, but the demand was so great that by issue two of their magazine (1979) they were saying "do it yourself." Many early rpgs were obvious D&D-clones, but Traveller was not--still, it had to bend in ways that were shaped by D&D as well as other user expectations.
Feb 3, 16:14 by John Farquhar
Mantis -

What a surprise to come across this article. Traveller was the first rpg that I "owned" having picked up a used set of the small paperbacks circa 1980. Not long afterward, I tried adapting it to a "Hitchiker's Guide" theme with only a little success. And, without much thought toward it over the last two decades, I only recently began wondering if it were still available. Apparently, I've missed much of the game's evolution. Thanks for giving me an historical context as well as informing me on it's developments.

jf
Feb 3, 19:39 by Michael Andre-Driussi
"Hitchhiker's Guide" ala Traveller would be very difficult, it seems to me! If you still have an inclination to say "Get out your Kill-o-Zap rayguns!" I think your best bet would be to start with one of the jokey sf games, like TWERPS ("The World's Easiest Role-Playing Game"). TWERPS Space Cadet and TWERPS Rocket Rangers might do it. Or maybe TWERPS Twek (for the Star Trek approach)? Then there is a more recent (non-TWERPS) product, "Spaceship Zero," which might be worth a look (it sounds sort of like British TV show "Red Dwarf," fwiw). Thank you for your kind words on the article!
Feb 4, 00:50 by Bluejack
One of the things I recall about the original Travellers was that, while the role-playing rules, and the background universe were all pretty open ended, the characters were very distinctly from a structured, disciplined quasi-military background. You had to roll your way through any number of years in some sort of training academy in order to end up in command of an extra-terrestrial vessel, which more or less seemed to assume a human-dominated space culture.

But, that character generation mechanism aside, I think any motivated game conductor could certainly re-apply the rules to a more open-ended space. Think Gamma World + Traveller + some sort of Asimovian I-Robot, and I think you would have a pretty good basis for... hey... anyone in Seattle want to kick off a game?
Feb 4, 07:42 by Adrian Simmons
Great article. SOunds like some classic sci-fi fiction. But I have to wonder... does anybody actually play this game? I had friends who raved about it, yet never played. Yet they would play STAR FRONTIERS* (and bitch, unceasingly, about how it was not TRAVELLER).

So, anybody except the author ever play? Anybody? Hello? Bueller? Bueller?

*this actually happened: the ranged combat in STAR FRONTIERS was so bizarre that at one point I had a character stop shooting his electrostunner and start pistol-whipping people with it, it was the only way he could hit anything!
Feb 5, 11:16 by Michael Andre-Driussi
More influential texts show up in round-about ways, like in adventures themselves. (I find this interesting but I couldn't work it into the article.) The world Victoria (where human colonists live only on high altitude areas) in JTAS #2 is based upon the flawed (imho) sf adventure novel PRISONERS OF THE SKY (rather than Anderson's High America or Niven's Plateau). Adventure "Across the Bright Face" (written by Marc Miller, Traveller's main inventor) is related to Nourse's story "Brightside Crossing," but amped up a bit, almost like noir adventure film "Wages of Fear." The planet Vior in the space merchant explorer adventure "Leviathan" is, by itself, a simple "cannibal island" setting (classic from Homer's day to the Age of Piracy, at least), but when Marc Miller (who didn't write "Leviathan") ran it for a weekend pickup game (as reported in Space Gamer #40, 1981), he seems to have blended in Leiber's "A Pail of Air" and Dante's Inferno! I find this very interesting, for some reason, and I'm always happy to find or learn more examples.
Feb 7, 17:10 by mantis
Variant Traveller campaign: William Burroughs. The gritty, grubby, low-life details (price lists for living in motels, eating package food)...the aimless quality (patrons are the =key= to jobs)...the injection drugs...these are a few of the details that make me think Traveller could serve as an easy basis for a Wm. Burroughs type of campaign! (Related notion: Dumarest of Terra brought some of that Burroughs mode into a more mainstream form.) And yet, strangely enough, the only example I personally know of a person running a Wm. Burroughs game was based upon ... "Space Quest"! (Which doesn't strike me as being as easy for the job as Traveller would be.) The players were scooting around in their starship, looking for adventure to show up (the nature of "Space Quest," <sigh>) when they came across a comet with a starship at its center. Inside the starship was Hamburger Mary...but the players had already abandoned the game at the preposterous nature of an iceberg with a ship inside of it...
Apr 24, 12:32 by Angus Glashier
Great article, sorry I only just found it. I'd always wondered what the literary inspirations of Traveller were. Some of the aliens were very well developed for a game, like the pacifist hexapod Hivers and the extremist vegetarian K'kree. 2300AD took this even further with some truly alien creatures (except for the risible Kafer general-purpose bad guys).

Just a nitpick: Traveller 2300 was never part of the Classic Traveller universe, it just had the word "traveller" in the title and many people jumped to the obvious conclusion, which is why they changed it to 2300AD in the second edition.

By the way, the Traveller Mailing List is the place to go for more info on the game than you're likely to find anywhere else (and plenty of convoluted discussions on the logic of jump drive technology). Some of the game's original creators still hang out there.
Apr 26, 13:03 by mantis
Great article, sorry I only just found it.


Thank you! Glad you like it.

Just a nitpick: Traveller 2300 was never part of the Classic Traveller universe, it just had the word "traveller" in the title and many people jumped to the obvious conclusion, which is why they changed it to 2300AD in the second edition.


Granted the "Traveller 2300" situation is confusing, and I wanted to treat it very lightly so as not to get bogged down, but I thought it was somewhat more confusing than your explanation.

That is, I dimly recall some early magazine articles by GDW people that introduced the game as a Traveller game (along the lines of how to integrate it and/or convert old Traveller into this new form). I don't think this was the article "Prologue--Adventure in the Not So Far Future" (on "backdating your Traveller campaign") from JTAS #20, but that title is very suggestive of what I'm talking about.

I could be misrembering the alledged article, but at the very least, this sort of thing was in the air in 1984-85: a near-future Traveller campaign; a more "hard sf" approach or reinvention. Coming not from the fans but from the publisher.

I'm not so sure that the confusion was limited to the consumers, but I acknowledge that this has been asserted by GDW people after the fact. (I don't mean to be cryptic: it seems like there were a number of missteps in "MegaTraveller," "Traveller 2300"/"2300 AD," and "Traveller: the New Era"; branching out into "Space: 1889" was also a questionable move, in my opinion.)

Thank you for your comments, Angus Glashier!
May 6, 10:09 by travitt hamilton
whoa.
May 7, 14:19 by Bluejack
Viruses for our Chinese friends, maybe?
May 8, 17:13 by Joy Ralph
The dreaded comment spam, or why people like Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden lock their old comment threads. Bah. Or perhaps Hurrah, we've arrived. *shrug*
May 14, 10:36 by Bluejack
Spam deleted.
May 15, 08:18 by Angus Glashier
That is, I dimly recall some early magazine articles by GDW people that introduced the game as a Traveller game


Yes, it was a Traveller game in the sense that the sort of campaigns that were inevitably played in 2300AD were more or less the same as in Traveller, but the canonic 2300 setting was entirely incompatible with the canonic Classic Traveller setting. Same approach, different material.

I don't mean to be cryptic: it seems like there were a number of missteps in "MegaTraveller," "Traveller 2300"/"2300 AD," and "Traveller: the New Era"; branching out into "Space: 1889" was also a questionable move, in my opinion.


True. But if anything I think GDW didn't diversify enough: GURPS has sourcebooks for everything under the sun, but it's still going strong (at least for a game that isn't D&D).
May 15, 13:10 by Michael Andre-Driussi
To expand a bit, and include other readers who may not know some of the details:

The missteps with MegaTraveller are plain: the product is so riddled with mistakes and omissions that it is not usable "out of the box." This is very strange, since the project should have been easy, simply compiling all the additions and refinements (mostly gleaned from published adventures and supplements) to the original, and adding the task system (from Digest Group Publications, iirc), to create the final form of the game (as well as the system, which we might call "2d6" in the style of "d20," the game system with roots in D&D and twenty-sided dice).

On the one hand, "MegaTraveller" was the spearhead of a company push. The two computer "MegaTraveller" games attest to this. Yet on the other hand, it seems the company's heart was not really into it, as shown by the poor quality of text, and the subsequent abandonment of "2d6" for "d10". The one hand does not seem to have known what the other hand was doing.

Angus wrote:
But if anything I think GDW didn't diversify enough: GURPS has sourcebooks for everything under the sun, but it's still going strong (at least for a game that isn't D&D).


My criticism isn't against diversity, so much. It is more against incoherent behavior.

I'm sure we can agree that GURPS works because it is a single coherent game system "3D6"; Chaosium did a similar thing with d100, starting with their own original game "Runequest" and adding licensed material branches for Moorcock's Elric and Lovecraft's Cthulhu. Both companies seem to have done well. Even <ahem> TriTac did this with "FTL: 2448" and "Fringeworthy" and "Bureau 13," iirc... (TriTac didn't do so well in the marketplace).

Things might have worked out differently if GDW had stuck with 2d6 and diversified, so that "Twillight: 2000" (T2K) and "2300 AD" (2.3K) and "Space: 1889" were all just Traveller variants, the sort of thing alluded to in TNE's "Fire, Fusion, & Steel" on the subject of customized campaigns.

(Not to mention the other GDW games, like "Dark Conspiracy" and whatnot.)

T2K and 2.3K were part of a big plan, ambitious in scope, and politically challenging if not "unthinkable" (the idea that the world would survive a full scale nuclear war tomorrow and rebuild to the stars in a few hundred years). But I question whether there was ever sufficient market for T2K. Were "Gamma World" and/or "The Morrow Project" doing so well in the marketplace? It doesn't really compare, since those two (and just about every other post-apocalyptic game I can think of) are set centuries after an apocalypse and T2K is the generation of the apocalypse itself. But it isn't exactly "The Road Warrior," either, since it is military rather than civilian...more like episodes of old TV show "Combat!" only with NATO/Warsaw Pact gear.

"Space: 1889" is another narrow niche, or so it seems to me. Maybe it was ahead of its time. There was a computer game made of it, iirc.

Changing from 2d6 to d10 seems suicidal to me, but if it must be done then maybe it would have worked out better if it were divorced from Traveller from the beginning, i.e., no "Traveller 2300" and no "Traveller: the New Era." Just declare Traveller over and done, perfected and finished with a useable MegaTraveller, and move on to the d10 system with different campaign books to add on.

In a nutshell:
"MegaTraveller"--unuseable out of the box, built up yet abandoned 2d6 system.

"Traveller 2300"/"2300 AD"--needless repeated confusion with Traveller where a clean break was necessary; additional confusion as company and players try to figure out the new d10 system; abandoned.

"Traveller: the New Era"--the third try, finally linking real Traveller with a d10 system that has been shaken out a bit. In a way, what "MegaTraveller" should have been, but at the same time rather dramatically cut off from all the Classic Traveller material (except through the laborious process of conversion).

Then again this is all 20/20 hindsight.
Mar 26, 07:20 by Ed Martz
In media SF, the best approximation of CT appeared at this very late point in the form of an anime TV series and movie from Japan: Cowboy BeBop (1998). Noir and stylish, it features: space adventure; real brand-name guns in space; money-grubbing bounty hunters struggling to get enough money for their next meal; streetwise connections; combat enhancing drugs; shady alliances; double-crossing; treasure hunting; and more hard SF than just about any other anime to date.


A year late to the party, but another example of media SF that very closely approximates CT is the Firefly/Serenity verse.

Good article. I bought the original boxed set of CT when it first came out, and have almost every one of the add-ons, as well. I bought most of the following products, too, all they were never as intersting to me.
May 24, 04:03 by James Roy
Fantastic article! I'm delighted to find it, even after more than a year. I've been playing Traveller since 1985, and it's fascinating to see this close a read into the text. I'd sussed out the Piper influence, but there's plenty you point out that I hadn't known about before - got some reading to do!
May 24, 04:04 by James Roy
I've played Traveller *Sticks hand in the air* Since '85!
May 24, 04:04 by James Roy
I've played Traveller *Sticks hand in the air* Since '85!
May 24, 18:25 by Michael Andre-Driussi
Hello there, article author here!

DXMachina wrote:
A year late to the party, but another example of media SF that very closely approximates CT is the Firefly/Serenity verse.


Yes, that's a good call. There are many points in Firefly that seem very much like CT: drugs, psionics, guns, starships, and most importantly, the "grey area" jobs of salvage and smuggling. CT never did the Western angle, which is good since Firefly is the one case in a thousand where it actually works! The Alliance is not much like canonical CT Imperium, but eh.

Alas, the fate of Firefly shows that the world =still= might not be ready for the basic concept.

While we're at it, the remake of Battlestar Galactica is another CT candidate (just add "High Guard" and "Robots"!), and seems to be faring better than Firefly.

James wrote:

Fantastic article! I'm delighted to find it, even after more than a year. I've been playing Traveller since 1985, and it's fascinating to see this close a read into the text.


Thank you!
Sep 8, 10:21 by Dan Eveland
What a great article. I am not a reader, but enjoy reading Traveller books/supplements/adventures. Thanks to your article, I am trying my hand at some of the fiction you mentioned.

I just love Traveller, but have a hard time finding local players.

I also wrote my own rules set here.
Mar 19, 19:55 by irosf@sockmonsters.com
Thanks for flagging the Dumarest series. I hadn't even heard of it, despite being an avid Traveller fan.

It's very Traveller.

I've only read a few chapters so far and aside from the different types of passage (which can notably be traded for cash) I'm also seeing psionics, the air/raft, the strange presence of noble rank/social status as a stat, skills such as carousing, gambling, jack-of-all-trades and also the odd fixation on 'space safaris' being a thing and on exploring ecological mystery.

We also seem to have a character called 'Cyber Dyne' that caused a few SF ripples...
   

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